“The Island for Poi” is a short story written in the “And that’s how the fox got his red coat” tradition, except with a twist: this story is about how the fantastic and mysterious relics found on an island came to be there. Also, the story is told by a first person narrator who learned the “truth” in parts. It’s a fun and breezy rite-of-passage tale, as satisfying to read as a berry can be to eat. Its nature overtones make it a good fit for WIZ.
Lora lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two children, dog and rat. She is currently reading Atlas Shrugged. Lora gardens, writes, and runs the household. She is also preparing for the next school year when she will have both children enrolled in cyberschool.
€œPoi Maluuma, you get in here! €
Poi was second oldest of us seven boys, and cursed with the curse of secondness, as everyone knew. As he slouched into the shade of the tree where our family spent our days, he dragged his big feet and hung his tousled head. It was much too hot for Momma to sit or cook in the hut until after dark, but that didn’t stop her from growling her command anyway. While Dad went fishing and could be anywhere at sea, everyone knew that home was where the Momma was.
She stared up at him from where she reposed on a mat in the shade of the tree. Momma was not your typical openhearted islander. Other women sometimes asked each other if she had even been born among the Friendly People. She was steely and flinty. I didn’t know these were the words for her until years later when I went away to Chile for school. Eventually it would occur to me that Momma might have been channeling the soul of some mean housewife from Detroit. She was bad for the tourist business. She didn’t care what others thought. She had seven boys and she always declared that she had been stricken enough.
Poi stood scraping his toes in the sand as though wondering what he’d done and what was going to happen to him.
€œDid you do that to the pig? € she asked, as though she had to. Everyone knew who had done that to the pig. It wasn’t like a stranger had slipped in during the night, fed the pig rotted muju fruit, painted him, and tied him to the tree right under the window where our oldest brother, blessed with firstness, slept. Poi had painted the pig sienna, the same color as the robe Momma had made for the firstborn. It was funny until you realized that the pig wouldn’t stop getting sick and couldn’t breathe through his skin, either. He looked like he felt awful.
About as awful as Poi looked as he stood before Momma.
€œDid what? € he asked, stupidly. All of Detroit rose up in Momma’s narrowed brown eyes and she rose slowly to her feet. As usual, it took a couple of us brothers to help her, but at the moment we were pretty eager not to displease Momma any further than she already was.
€œYou will go to the Island, € she pronounced, without even waiting to ask Dad. All of us froze in our tracks, staring around at the sound of a sentence suddenly gone harsh.
No. It was too much.
We looked at each other, then at Poi. He shook in the sand. His knees nearly knocked.
€œMomma… € he whispered.
When Dad came home from fishing he had a whole string of delicacies for Momma to cook. As she slit a belly there and crushed a shell here, she casually talked with Dad, lounging there under the tree. She talked for a long time, and he listened for a long time. In the end all he did was nod in agreement.
The Island for Poi.
Poi hid in the hot hut till dusk had fallen and everyone came in for sleep. Dad called him outside, announced quietly when they would be going, and then sent him back to his mat to sleep…as though he could.
The Island. Dad had told us about it. All the dads who had been sent there and survived told all their sons about it. Then of course all us sons compared notes about what we had heard. Dad had told us about the giant boars that yearn for man flesh. He told of blood hungry worms that you could feel crawling through the sand just under your feet. They were, he said, waiting for you to stand still so that they could strike. He told of the cutting winds and the flying salt that followed in the back of the winds. He said he never really understood how he got out of there alive.
Other dads told about the great rocks with the angry spirits that chased you in circles until you just couldn’t run anymore and gave up. There was also the story of the trees with clutching vines.
All the sons had concluded wisely that some of this could not possibly be true. Still, we saw our fathers’ faces, we heard their suddenly somber voices. We thought we were arousing some ancient insanity by reminding them of old terrors. We learned quickly not to ask about the Island too much because it caused so much pain.
Poi went out next morning, Dad with him. A couple other men went too, carrying every weapon they could.
We were very sad that day. It was one thing to lose Poi…maybe things would be quieter around the tree now. But Dad…we couldn’t afford to lose Dad. He’d already been sentenced to the Island once as a boy; he was fragile in that way. It made us angry with Poi.
Seventy years later I heard the rest of the story as Poi lay on a real bed in Chile dying because his heart had gotten so tired. He told me everything. I’ll tell it to you now.
When they pushed up out of the surf to the Island, the other men threw themselves down on the sand and stretched with the luxury of old men who didn’t have to work anymore.
€œWhoa, that was some row! € one said.
€œYou should have heard my wife: she was so mad I volunteered for this trip! She always calls me lazy. It’s nice to be away from that. €
€œMy wife is the greatest, € Dad had said cheerfully. €œIt’s the boys that get on my nerves. €
He threw himself down in the sand and almost began drowsing right there. Poi looked around in alarm. Was the sand moving?
€œGet up! Get up! € he shouted. €œWhat about the blood worms? € It was a horrible thought that he might witness such a thing, almost as horrible as the thought that he might abruptly find himself alone and stranded in that place.
The men started laughing. They laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
€œThere are no blood worms, Poi, € one man said.
€œNo boars, € Dad said.
€œNone of that other stuff, either. €
Poi tried to look as though he’d known all along, and the men laughed even harder. He had to get his bearings at that point, I suppose.
€œSo what’s so bad about this island? Why do bad boys get sent here? €
€œSo you admit it? € Dad asked quickly, too quickly. Poi just blinked.
Dad got up and came over to him. He gave him a hug that Poi remembered seventy years later.
€œPoi, I love you. Your Momma loves you. Your brothers love you. €
€œWe love you, too, Poi. Just not the stuff you do, € another man said.
€œSo why am I here? €
€œBecause you are a pain in the coconuts. For everybody! It’s time you worked some of that bad out of you and learned some good. €
€œWhat are you going to do to me? €
One of the men handed Poi a small chipping tool. It was the kind the girls used to clean out shells for necklaces. Poi told me that at the time, he had thought cleaning shells for necklaces was about the worst thing they could have made him do. Back then I would have agreed.
€œYou’re going to carve a stone, € Dad told Poi.
They walked across the sand. Poi followed along quietly, turning the tool over and over as though he had never seen one before. He was just getting back his pride when the men stopped on a rounded hill. Below were lines of huge statues, all carved heads of men. The statues looked like the ghosts of giants, and Poi began to be afraid again.
€œYou see these statues? Every one was carved by a bad boy. Every one has turned the bad boy into a good boy. We brought you here because we were bad boys. None of the good boys ever come here. They know the story but they have no need to come here, so they don’t. That statue is mine. €
€œThat one is mine. €
€œThat’s mine, over there. €
Dad took Poi by the shoulders.
€œWe will stay with you and tell you every day how much we love you. But you will do the carving. €
€œI have to carve a man? €
€œNot just any man: YOU. €
€œYou have to imagine what you will be like when you are a man. You carve him. You become him. €
The men clustered around and watched Poi think. He looked at the tool in his hand.
€œThis isn’t so hard, € Poi said. The men grinned.
€œStanding there just holding that tool? Naw, that isn’t hard. Let’s get you started. €
I remember when we saw them coming back from the Island. Everyone hurried down to the water to see who had survived. Somehow Momma was there first, and she was smiling a strange little smile. As we ran into the surf to help with the boat, the men stepped aside. They looked exhausted. Poi had a serious face, grim mouth, and somber eyes. His hands were wrapped in leaves, and he staggered when he walked. Momma hugged him proudly.
Since Dad and the other men had survived, we forgave Poi for taking them away. We wanted to hear their stories, but they told very little of it. None of us wanted to hurt their big hearts when they had sacrificed so much for Poi.
Things settled down, especially Poi. He worked like a man, treated Momma like a queen, and grew up to be a great fisherman among the Friendly People.